- NEW YORK
A follow-up to a similar roundtable discussion that they jointly presented earlier this year in Los Angeles (SHOOTonline, 3/21), the Association of Music Producers (AMP) and the poolhouse, a collective and community of freelance agency producers, again teamed to sponsor an industry session titled "What Does Your Budget Sound Like?"; this time the two organizations brought the music and sound discussion to New York. Held on September 17 at audio post house Color and hosted by its partner/executive producer Jeff Rosner, the discussion focused on the changing marketplace and putting together and working within tighter budgets. By the end of the evening event, there was a consensus that challenging budgets are going to continue and that it is important to be flexible, to try to get involved in projects early, and to try to find creative solutions to budgeting quandaries. Additionally, panelists touched on topics ranging from web content to SAG, AFM, demos and more.
AMP president Marlene Bartos, executive producer and managing director of the NY office of global music production company Yessian, kicked off the panel discussion by welcoming the guests, a mix of AMP members and advertising agency music producers, and introducing panel moderator, SHOOT publisher and editorial director Roberta Griefer. Bartos noted that “AMP and SHOOT have a long history dating back to AMP’s inception that’s continued over the years with SHOOT’s great coverage of AMP events, new work through its quarterly Top Ten Music Tracks Charts, music industry news and the issues that impact our industry.”
Before introducing the panelists, Griefer addressed the tongue-in-cheek copy in the invitation which read that the panel would discuss how to make the most out of your budget without ending up in litigation. Contacting advertising and entertainment industry attorney, Jeffrey A. Greenbaum, managing partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz (FKKS), earlier that day for some pointers, Griefer provided his list of seven suggestions to keep in mind:
1. Make sure you have E&O insurance that covers copyright infringement. And, lots of it. (errors and omissions insurance also known as professional liability insurance for professional services businesses).
2. If at all possible, avoid getting temp tracks. If you don’t hear the original, you’re not going to commit copyright infringement.
3. If you do get a temp track from the agency, have them express in words what they like about it. Saying “We want something like the James Bond theme” is “bad”. “We want something done in the sixties style, that you might hear in a spy thriller,” is “good”. Then, base the new music on the words, not on the temp track.
4. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas and styles--just the particular way it is expressed. Make sure you come up with your own original expression of the idea.
5. Small changes to someone else’s music aren’t going to help. It needs to be original.
6. Don’t believe anyone that you can steal a certain number of notes or copy a certain percentage of a song. Those rules don’t exist.
7. Don’t use sound-alikes!
In addition to Bartos, the evening’s lineup of panelists consisted of Rani Vaz, sr. VP, director of music for BBDO New York; Keith D’Arcy who oversees creative licensing and catalog acquisition at SONGS Music Publishing; and poolhouse member Karen McKibben, a freelance excutive producer who is currently at R/GA in NY.
Budget Process and Issues
Griefer asked the panel to delve into the budget process, particularly in challenging cases, if for example the client asks the agency or the agency asks the music production company for something like a Philharmonic orchestra or particular artist but clearly there’s no budget for it.
Vaz and Bartos were in agreement that the creative is always the first priority. For them, it’s key to define the story they’re trying to communicate, who is the audience, how do they best reach them. That said, budgets have become more and more challenging. Both joked that in response to a question for something that is unrealistic for the budget, they ask the simple question, “Why?” to start the process of looking for other options that will provide the same feeling/fill the same need as the high-priced option that’s not possible to supply within the budget.
When asked if the music producers are being brought into the creative process earlier than in the past, Vaz said that they are which is very helpful relative to budgeting. She tries to bring the music production company in as early as possible as well. She cited as an example a recent job with a $5,000 budget--they could not spend money to go to multiple companies or do something quickly so they went to one composer early in the process to create a scored composition.
Vaz explained that starting with creative questions, she looks to determine what emotion are we going for, what are we trying to evoke, to say, etc. Budgets do sometimes have to be re-calibrated to reflect the actual needs of the project. For example, if someone needs an emotional orchestral score there are key elements like strings that need to be played by live players to probably capture the emotion of the performance so the budget will have to be adapted to include that. But a full-fledged orchestra is probably not needed and the goal can be accomplished with fewer instruments.
In response to question about how budget is set, Bartos explained that the norm used to be creating a budget based on the actual work, but now budgets are handed down based on what the clients want to spend. “The earlier we’re involved in the process, the easier it is to achieve creative goals within a given budget.”
For instance, she continued, if an agency decides to sell the client an idea based on a line of copy that also happens to be in a popular song, which happened recently--it was fortunate they called us before they reached out to the artist’s management. It would have been highly unlikely the artist would have ever agreed to license the song for this project at any price point, and once the publisher is contacted, it becomes difficult to even do something in the same genre and even using the tagline would have put them at risk in this case.
“So we said before we approach the publisher, let’s do original first and go from there. It worked out well for everyone. They loved the original piece and had more flexibility in the styles we could cover. And it turns out they did have a limited budget.”
McKibben added that while the budget for media and production are set for a project, at times that isn’t the case for the music, which can make a job all the more challenging for music producers. She also mentioned that unlike music producers or business managers, freelancers are often coming in as the “new person.” Thus it’s not always easy to manage a client’s expectations. It’s important to establish trust with them early on.
The panelists agreed that when budgets are challenged, the choice of supplier is often based on a good existing relationship.
Asked about doing demos for free, Bartos said, “We don’t think doing any work for free is a good idea. There’s value to our experience and knowledge and talent.” Vaz and McKibben agreed that doing demos with multiple companies is a process that’s no longer serving its purpose, and that it makes more sense to apply the full budget to one vendor than to spend valuable budget on demos.
D’Arcy agreed that limited budget seems to be the name of the game these days and that creative solutions are needed. He told of a recent project for Zumba, a company that hasn’t done much licensing but that really wanted a Diplo track. As a budget-saving suggestion, Zumba was asked if they would be willing to Chyron or to place a Shazam tag in the spot. They agreed and a Chyron appears in the bottom left of the screen during the first few seconds. It was a great way, he said, to provide more provable exposure and still get a good price. They also created a custom remix of the song specifically for Zumba classes, and folded in what they’d normally have spent to license it for in-class use into the overall sync and master license. I think overall we both felt like we got the right deal, and Zumba is a very music-centric brand so we think there will be good opportunities going forward because we were able to meet in the middle.
As for adapting to a changing marketplace, moderator Griefer pointed out that music houses are diversifying. She noted that Yessian, for example, has an international presence and maintains music supervision, licensing and consulting arm Dragon Licks. Griefer asked Bartos for her perspective on how music houses are evolving.
With shrinking budgets and tightening deadlines spread over an array of content options, Bartos noted that there is a trend toward still providing the best quality of work by taking advantage of companies that can offer full service packages. Smaller boutique companies and individuals who are well known for a certain niche will always be desirable partners for select projects, but as the marketplace becomes more global and as more production work is “soup to nuts,” it seems that companies that can offer a full package of services are better able to have more points of contact with clients and more opportunities for more diverse projects.
She observed that having the Yessian library, the ability to work on theme parks, experiential work, webisodes, indie films, and to create a diverse body of music including sound design and audio post while providing a high level of work at just about any price point around the globe in multiple time zones is becoming more important to a larger number of clients.
As for other overall trends, D’Arcy said that a hot topic is web content. On the licensing side, he’s being asked for more “Internet-only and industrial use” fare (as opposed to broadcast, which usually comes with the kind of fee where industrial might be folded in). Doing a lot of licensing for “internet only” uses, D’Arcy shared that this can take varied forms--sometimes they’re the equivalent of broadcast spots and they run as pre-roll, other times they’re “branded content” and longer form, and sometimes they’re fan generated (like Verizon’s NFL Fan Zone work). He noted that currently everybody has a different gauge for how to price this work, and pricing along with many other issues will have to be worked out going forward. He’s also dealing with the difference between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) definition of “industrial” and the licensing world’s interpretation of it as “non-consumer facing” use. SAG folds in a lot of stuff that makes pricing out a song, like in-cinema use, challenging. The audience chimed in with agreement as similar issues are being faced by everyone.
Bartos told of a recent project where Yessian negotiated a license with a major artist and the agency was not a SAG signatory but the label had a standard boilerplate line in the agreement--as they all do--regarding the licensee being responsible for all talent payments. It’s rare, but the agency wanted the line struck; a label will never take on that liability so we negotiated a payment in lieu of re-use (since the agency is non SAG) and it protected the agency from a possible future claim for re-use payments.
A question arose from the audience regarding pricing of payments in a situation like this and McKibben mentioned that there are many companies that can figure payments and that Entertainment Partners was one company offering such services.
The panel agreed that more and more work is starting with existing pieces. Bartos said that Yessian has a vast library of 15,000-plus tracks so rather than spending money on demos, licensing original library elements is the best way to get great music when the budget is limited. The client gets multiple options from multiple composers across a number of genres, and the terms are often dictated by the budget.
When asked about the use of hybrid pieces/re-arrangements, Bartos said that they’re not that common but it’s a great way for a client to have the borrowed equity of a known piece yet still make it their own.
It’s also a good way to save money, since the client won’t need to pay for a master recording as well as the sync license. That’s “a win-win for everyone. We encourage doing covers whenever someone is interested in a published piece.”
Other than a bigger budget, the question was asked whether there is anything the panelists would like to see either from the marketplace or from their working relationship with their industry collaborators that would help them achieve the best work possible.
Everyone concurred that shrinking budgets are a reality. Bartos reaffirmed that it would be great to be involved as early as possible in the process. When music is left to the end and there’s a committee of people in a edit room listening to hundreds of tracks that an editor is throwing up against the picture, it takes away from the craft of making a strong piece of communication, whether that craft is original composition or music supervision.
Vaz brought up how upfront payments for residuals is what more clients are asking for--wanting to pay once and not having to deal with additional incremental payments down the line.
In response, Bartos provided some welcomed information about the new American Federation of Musicans (AFM) Commercials Contract that is in the process of being ratified by it membership. The contract was negotiated by AFM and the Association of National Advertisers/American Association of Advertising Agencies (ANA-AAAA) Joint Policy Committee (JPC) on Talent Relations. This is something that AMP has been advocating for several years and has had multiple meetings and discussions with the AFM leadership. In addition to a wage increase, a one year upfront re-use payment has been added that would cover all uses including internet, non-broadcast and foreign: initial one-year use cycle is $1,245.00 and one-year re-use cycle comes in at $933.75.